U.S. Psychiatrists to End Drug Company Seminars

By Julie Steenhuysen

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The American Psychiatric Association said on Wednesday it will end medical education seminars and meals sponsored by drug companies at its annual meetings to reduce chances for financial conflicts of interest.

The group, which represents 38,000 doctors, is among the first to say no to the drug-company sponsored seminars at its meetings, which many critics say blur the line between education and advertising.

Psychiatrists have been at the front of a controversy over conflicts of interest following accusations last year by Republican U.S. Senator Charles Grassley that prominent Harvard University psychiatrist Dr. Joseph Biederman and others failed to fully disclose payments from drug companies.

Psychiatric drugs represent billions of dollars in global sales. Last July, Grassley asked the APA to provide information about its financial ties with the drug industry.

Dr. Nada Stotland, president of the APA, said the group began working on the issue a year ago, long before it became the subject of a probe.

"We're not blaming the pharmaceutical companies for anything and we're not severing all relations with them," Stotland said in a telephone interview.

She said drug companies paid the group in order to sponsor glitzy education symposiums put on by prominent doctors during its annual meetings, typically over breakfast or dinner.

And while Stotland said the group took care to avoid biased reporting at these presentations, she said the notion of mixing something that is basically a gift with education "wasn't the healthiest mixture."

The move includes the elimination of industry-supplied meals that were provided during the symposiums.

"There is a perception that accepting meals provided by pharmaceutical companies may have a subtle influence on doctors' prescribing habits," Dr. James Scully, APA's medical director and chief executive officer, said in a statement.

"While industry-funded meals used to be normal operating procedure at medical meetings, a sea change is currently underway in how we manage industry relationships," he said.

"What was acceptable five years ago isn't necessarily acceptable today."

Earlier this year, many drug makers said they would stop giving out small gifts such as pens and flash drives as part of new voluntary guidelines from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, an industry group in Washington.

The group's 2002 code already bans more costly gifts like trips to resorts, and calls for companies that pay for medical education at conferences to leave the content to outside experts.